Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Lovely, if Chilly, Start to Summer on Mt. Eisenhower

At 6:50 am yesterday--the summer solstice--the temperature on top of Mt. Washington was 33 F. We finished packing for our day hike to 4,760-foot Mt. Eisenhower via Edmands Path, adding a winter hat and gloves after seeing the forecast of gusty winds and cooler than normal temperatures forecast for the first day of summer in the high summits.

By the time we reached the trailhead on Mt. Clinton Road, all the parking lots were overflowing. Seems like everyone else was also game for a first day of summer hike. We passed many people (and a dozen or so dogs--Henna and Kodi made some friends), but as happens in the vast White Mountains we often had the trail to ourselves. There was time without footfalls ahead or behind to pause for rest or a snack, to peer at trailside plants, to listen to bird songs, and to take in views.
This 7-mile hike to Mt. Eisenhower and Crawford Path is the easiest route to one of the 4,000-footers in the Presidential Range. The last stretch to Crawford Path (before the final ascent to Eisenhower) is across large boulders exposed to the north. While tricky in bad weather, it offers some grand views north to higher peaks.
A June hike above treeline provides the added benefit of seeing the carpet of alpine plants, some still in bloom.
When we reached Crawford Path, we paused to add more clothing: wind breaker, winter hat, gloves; on this first day of summer. Here is a look at the round, broad, bald summit of Mt. Eisenhower before we made the final climb. On the way up Kodi took a break in the alpine zone.
It was a little blustery on the top of Mt. Eisenhower so we did not linger long. Just enough to take in 360 degree views.
One of my favorite parts of hiking to Mt. Eisenhower is taking the 1.0+ mile loop that goes up and over Mt. Eisenhower and back down to Crawford Path. We always do this counterclockwise, descending with grand views southwest toward Mt. Pierce and Crawford Notch and south into the Dry River Wilderness.
Whether near or far, the views were grand on this first day of summer 2014.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Big Green Frog

It rained today, hard at times, as predicted. And the temperature was only in the low 60s. Maybe a day only a frog could enjoy. I found a huge female green frog in our yard this afternoon. And she was plump.
I'm thinking, maybe hopeful, that her belly was full of mosquitoes from our yard. They were thick today, loving this damp day too.
A few clues tell me that she is a female green frog: the tympanum ("the ear") is about the same size as the eye (in males it is much larger than the eye). Males have a yellow throat which this one does not. And it is a green frog with a ridge down each side of its back; bullfrogs do not have these ridges.

Color is not a reliable feature for identification, but this one was a beautiful lime green, freshly washed in the rain.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Green Hills

Yesterday I took part in a "bioblitz" on The Nature Conservancy's Green Hills Preserve in Conway, New Hampshire. The goal of a blitz is to gather a few dozen volunteers and staff to inventory a property or properties for all things living: plants, birds, mammals, insects, frogs, snakes, and the rest. For this event, experts in various taxa gathered to hike about different parts of the Green Hills, recording (either on paper datasheets or now more commonly on ipads or smartphones) whatever we saw or heard.

Seven of us woke in the wee hours of Wednesday morning to start bird surveys at 4:30 am. My team of two started at the Thompson Road/Pudding Pond parking area and hiked 2 miles (listening for birds along the way) to the top of 1,857' Middle Mountain. Except for pesky mosquitoes, it was a beautiful morning with a light breeze and blue sky. Our route was entirely closed canopy forest, so the birds we heard were suited to that habitat: ovenbird, black-throated blue and black-throated green warblers, scarlet tanager, pileated woodpecker, hermit thrush, red-eyed and blue-headed vireos, among others.

We heard nothing unexpected, but this was my first visit to Middle Mountain. We reached the top at 6:30 am and paused to listen to an eastern wood pewee and take in the lovely views.
Red pine dominates the mountaintop and the whole ridge between Middle Mountain and nearby Peaked Mountain to the north supports a red pine rocky ridge plant community. Lowbush blueberry and other small heath shrubs and herbs and grasses blanket the understory.
As the birds grew quiet by 8:30 am (hence the need to start bird surveys early), we started looking down at wildflowers rather than craning our necks into trees in search of warblers. Pink lady's slippers and Clintonia (blue bead lily) were still in striking bloom.
After a coffee break and snack, we re-grouped and all taxa experts headed out to their respective survey spots. I joined a group on the 1 mile hike to 2,369' Black Cap Mountain off Hurricane Mountain Road, another first for me.
On this hike we noted American toads, tiger swallowtails, blackburnian warblers. Pam Hunt, our bird and dragonfly expert, showed us a dainty female sedge sprite damselfly.

From here I joined up with friend and colleague Emma Carcagno and we headed to the southern region of the Green Hills and into a completely different habitat--a gravel pit. Not as ecologically pristine and aesthetically pleasing as the high ridges, but we saw some neat stuff. In a depression filled with water--such that it was serving as a vernal pool (a type of intermittent wetland)--we saw many things....moose, deer, and raccoon tracks in the soft sand around the pool; predacious diving beetle larvae with their large, long pincers in search of prey; and American toad (small and black) and wood frog (large and brown) tadpoles.....
In the surrounding woods we found both adult toads and the well camouflaged wood frog with its beige body and black mask.
By mid-afternoon, as the sun grew hotter and the mosquitoes thicker (and my early morning start catching up), I began to fade. I did not record anything uncommon on my various walkabouts, but I did help document what was present and felt privileged to join this group of knowledgeable experts into some new territory for me.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

June Garden Update

The gardens were slow to get underway this spring (or maybe I was slow to get going), but now--with the recent mix of rain and sun--are looking rather stellar, if I do say so.
This year I opted for straw instead of black plastic as a mulch for the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, and cukes. I think it looks nicer, will decompose in the garden, holds in moisture and prevents splash back.
The red Norland potatoes are already a foot tall and lush. I visit them every morning to squash cucumber and tortoise beetles. Spiders seem to love the plants. I like to think they are tending the plants, catching nefarious small insects.
The okra, green beans, and pole beans have popped out of the ground, after planting just a week ago. It was worth waiting until early June to plant these warm weather crops (May was just too cold).
This morning I harvested cilantro (and made a batch of pesto), spinach (second harvest), and speckled lettuce.
After I planted 16 tomato plants in late May, a chipmunk chewed off three. I set a live trap baited with peanut butter and apple and have not seen it since. Maybe just setting the trap worked. Now I await potato beetles and to see if deer jump the vegetable garden fence. Otherwise the only slow going plants are the annuals--flowers and herbs. They need more sun, less rain.

Srini re-built the garden gate and it swings nicely now.